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Four months ago, when Denice Spero, co-director of iCubed, the Institute for Immunology and Immunization, hosted scientists from around the world at the sixth annual Vaccine Renaissance Conference at Hotel Providence in October 2012, it attracted scant attention from the local business community.
And despite iCubed’s promise, reflected by its rapid expansion, growing from four employees in 2009 to more than 20 employees in 2012, the state’s potential to become a major center for vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing has until recently been little noticed outside the local industry.
But Spero is suddenly in high demand; she will be featured speaker at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Breakfast in March.
And R.I. Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, as part of her foray into economic-development issues, recently met with Spero and a group of CEOs on Feb. 7 to discuss opportunities to grow the biosciences sector.
The impetus for the raised visibility is the newly created Rhode Island BioScience Leaders, a fledging organization of 30 CEOs, chief operating officers, founding scientists and decision-makers from 24 bioscience firms who have banded together to form a collaborative group, with the goal of helping companies grow.
The co-founders are Edward G. Bozzi, an assistant clinical professor in University of Rhode Island’s biotechnology manufacturing program, and Spero, who first began discussions in the summer of 2012. Bozzi was interested in finding jobs for his students in the biotech sector, and Spero wanted to address the need for more incubation and lab space.
“I approached it from the perspective of a former pharmaceutical-industry executive,” Spero said. “I thought it was important to get all the leaders together and see what the common issues were. That’s where we started.”
The group’s initial focus is on smaller Rhode Island companies that are making small-molecule drugs, therapeutics, or a device that has a biologic component that can impact human health, Spero explained.
“All of our members are CEOs, [chief operating officers], founding scientists or research heads – we really wanted the decision-makers,” Spero continued. “The CEOs really appreciated this type of organization, because as a CEO, if there’s an issue, you often have no one to walk with.”